Carl Denham (RKO)

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Carl Denham
Denham in Son of Kong
Species Human
Nationality American
Occupation Film producer/director
Related to Hilda Petersen (wife)[1] SoK,
Jack Denham (grandson)KR
First appearance Latest appearance
King Kong (1933) "The Lost Spider Pit Sequence" (2005)
Played by Robert Armstrong
Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.

— Denham on seeing the body of Kong (King Kong)

Carl Denham is a fictional film producer and director who appeared in the 1933 film King Kong, and its sequel Son of Kong. When the promotional novelization fell into the public domain, it created a complex situation whereby aspects of the novel, but not the film, could be created without royalty or licensing fees. This has allowed Kong and Denham both to appear in numerous works sharing roots with the original film, both with and without authorization from the estate of Merian C. Cooper.


In the original film Denham is more stiff-lipped and reserved than in other incarnations, and is less callous or malicious than his 2005 or 1998 counterparts. Despite this, he is every bit the dreamer, adventurer, and businessman as any of them. He is generally more caring than other interpretations, and feels guilt for what befell King Kong. Despite this, an official adaptation of the story printed between the films in the "London Daily Herald" depicts him as having learned nothing from his adventure, and displaying Kong's stuffed corpse for profit instead of the live creature. In Son of Kong Denham expresses regret for his actions, and abandons his life in New York to sail with Englehorn. During this time he meets his future wife Hilda Petersen, with whom he bonds over having nowhere to go.

The unlicensed sequel to the 1932 novelization claims that Denham's guilt led him to burn Kong's body and never take credit or ownership over the beast. Despite this, he still told his grandson about his time on Skull Island, suggesting a level of acceptance for his actions.


King Kong (1933)

In King Kong, Denham was a famous maker of "moving pictures" known for filming wild animals in exotic places. Many questioned his sanity due to his dedication to film. Denham's role in the film began when a movie producer boarded the S.S. Venture to inform Denham that he had not found an actress to be in his new film. This prompted Denham to go into New York City to find a girl for the role. Denham found Ann Darrow in the grip of an angry shopkeeper who believed that she intended to steal fruit from his stand. Denham bought Darrow dinner and hired her for the film. While aboard the Venture, Denham filmed some scenes of Darrow. Denham disproved of the burgeoning romance between Darrow and the sailor Jack Driscoll while filming. On Skull Island, Denham tried to film the native sacrifice ceremony, only to be found by the native chief. Darrow was later kidnapped and given to the god Kong. Denham and a group of others tracked Kong through the jungle in an attempt to rescue Darrow, which to the deaths of every party member but Driscoll and Denham himself. Denham returned to alert Captain Englehorn of the situation, and was seen again after Driscoll and Ann had escaped. Denham, the Venture's crew, and a brace of natives tried to keep Kong inside the ancient wall of the island, but Kong still escaped. As everyone fled toward the shore, Denham threw a gas bomb at Kong, subduing him for the time being. Months later, Denham had gained a show in New York City with Kong as the star, but on opening night Kong mistook cameras for weapons (and an attack on Ann Darrow), and escaped. Denham and Driscoll went to the local police to think of a way to subdue Kong. Denham was seen again at the end of the film pushing through crowds to get to Kong's body.

Son of Kong

In Son of Kong, Denham was staying in a rented room hiding from the press after being financially ruined by lawsuits against him for the destruction of New York City. Denham revealed that he was full of regret for what he did to Kong. He was summoned back to the Venture by Captain Englehorn via a note delivered by the ship's cook Charlie. On board the ship, Denham was made aware that he had been given the option to testify in his defense in the United States Supreme Court. At this time, Denham decided to travel with the Venture. The Venture took to port on an island called Dakang about a thousand miles away from Kong's Island. On Dakang, Denham went to see a show where he met the ex-ballet dancer Hilda Petersen, who was now working in her father's small sideshow. After departing from Dakang, it was discovered that Hilda had stowed away on board. Later on in the voyage, a mutiny was staged, which sent Denham, Captain Englehorn, Charlie, and Hilda to Kong's Island in a lifeboat. On the Island, He almost immediately discovered Kiko and recognizes that he is the son of King Kong. Kiko then got into a few predicaments, and Denham and Hilda aided him, thus earning the juvenile Kong's trust. When Denham opened the temple that the party had set up camp near, and took the necklace with large diamonds that was inside, the Island began to sink into the ocean. Kiko lifted Denham up above the water, saving his life. After Denham and the rest of the party were rescued, Denham questioned weather Kiko knew he was saving his life. Hilda assured Denham that he did, and they discuss their plans for when they return to the city.

"The Lost Spider Pit Sequence"

In stock footage from the 1933 film, Denham and the crew of the Venture run from a raging Brontosaurus, and Denham's sleeve gets caught on a bush while most of the rest go on to meet their deaths.

Books & Short Stories

King Kong (1932)

Artwork of Carl from The Illustrated King Kong

At age 35, while waiting aboard the venture, Denham was approached by Weston, his casting agent who informed him that they had no lead actress. Weston tried to minimize his failure by pointing out that Denham had never used a woman in a film before, but Denham scoffed him away, telling him that crowds were complaining that his films needed a leading lady to truly enjoy and appreciate his films. On the question of safety for his cast and crew, Denham pointed out that they had sleeping gas powerful enough to incapacitate an entire herd of elephants. When Denham refused to disclose the location where such precautions needed to be taken, Weston ran off, glad he had not found him a girl. Denham then scoured New York City before finding Ann Darrow being wrongly accused of theft. Denham bought her out of her situation and learned that she had been in films before at a closed down studio. She eagerly signed on, and Denham began regularly working with her to try on costumes and gather test footage. During the journey to Skull Island, Denham noted that Darrow's presence was making the ship's cook Lumpy's monkey Ignatz behave very well, a situation he likened to the legend of "Beauty and the Beast", a motif which he planned to use in his movie. After six weeks of travel, they reached Skull Mountain Island. Jack insisted that Ann not accompany them on their first expedition onto the coast, but Denham insisted he have his leading lady with him. The party eventually came across a native ceremony to a god called Kong. Denham's attempts to film the ritual lead to their discovery. While they were furious at first, the villagers offered to trade six of their women for Ann. The sailors refused, but said they would negotiate in the morning. Back on the ship Carl, Driscoll, Englehorn, and Ann discussed what Kong might be. The general consensus was that Kong lived behind the wall, and Denham wondered if the size of the wall meant that Kong was a huge monster like a dinosaur. That night, Ann was kidnapped by the natives. As soon as this was discovered, Carl and Jack lead a rescue party into the village and past their gigantic wall into Kong's jungle. They followed the trail of debris left from Kong's trek before them until a Stegosaurus came out of the mist and attacked them. They knocked it out with a gas bomb before Denham put two bullets in its heart. They attempted to build a raft to cross a lagoon, but a Brontosaurus attacked them and they lost two crewmen along with all of their guns. Jack lead the party from there with Denham taking up the rear to minimize losses to the crew, and they watched as Kong fought some Triceratopses on an asphalt flat before the maddened dinosaurs chased them into the jungle after their defeat. As they crossed a ravine on a log to escape the Triceratops, Jack saw Kong approaching from the other side and ducked into a cave on the ravine's cliff face as Kong shook the crew to their deaths in the ravine. Denham managed to escape as well, but all of the other crewmen on the log were shaken off the log and sent to their deaths in the ravine. Denham blamed himself for Ann's loss, and agreed with Jack from the other side of the chasm that he would return to the village for supplies and more men. When he got back, he was very frank about the dangers that lurked and the men that were lost, but the crew believed Ann was worth it, and they gathered supplies and waited to head out to make sure that they timed their journey so that it would be light when they found Jack's trail. Just as they were about to head out, Lumpy the ship's cook spied Jack and Ann returning from atop the wall. Unfortunately, Kong quickly caught up to them and began to tear the village apart in search of Ann. However, Carl was able to knock Kong out with his gas bombs, and talked Captain Englehorn into making a raft to float Kong back to the States. In New York City, Carl turned Kong into a stage show called Kong: The Eighth Wonder. On opening night, all of New York had come to see his monster, but the photo shoot for the newspapers angered Kong and he broke out of his chrome steel chains and broke through the front of the theater. Denham and the police began to chase the beast down, and learned from Driscoll that Kong had taken Ann. Unfortunately, they lost Kong's trail but Driscoll theorized that he would go to the highest place he could find: The Empire State Building. Denham called in the army planes from an upstate airfield, and they took Kong down with minimal loss of life while Denham, Driscoll and the police went up the tower. Jack immediately went to Ann, but Denham and the police looked down at Kong's body, causing Denham to remark that the aviators had not killed him, but that beauty had killed the beast, leaving the policeman thoroughly puzzled.

Kong Reborn

After the events of King Kong (1932), Carl was ruined by the lawsuits that hit him for the damages Kong had caused to the city, all of which he settled until he was penniless. He reflected that he had given the people what they had wanted, and when it was done they had wanted revenge. Years later, he would often tell his grandson Jack Denham stories of his trip to Skull Island. Jack loved to hear the stories, but his father, Carl's son was less than enthusiastic, so the two would go to the garage and tell stories there. Later in his life, Carl realized that it was not "Beauty" that had killed the Beast, as he had so often quipped, but rather his own human ignorance. In his will, he remarked to Jack that he had been more like a son to him in some ways than his father had been, and expressed deepest regret for his exploitation of Skull Island and its people, and hoped that Jack might return to right the wrongs of his ignorant generation that believed its culture and ways superior to any others it encountered.

Audio Plays





The Illustrated King Kong


King Kong (1968)

King Kong (1991)


  • While his name was not always "Carl," the "Denham" character, alongside Captain Englehorn is one of the earliest characters in the creation of King Kong. He was present as a circus owner who captured and displayed Kong in Edgar Wallace's earliest screenplays.
  • Most depictions of Denham that are authorized by the Cooper estate feature a mustache, or some other type of facial hair. Whether this was part of their contract and represented their vision for the character, or is simply a coincidence is unknown.


This is a list of references for Carl Denham (RKO). These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: [1]

  1. SOK comic day six.png


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